Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Why Sharks believe they're turning things around after win over Oilers

Why Sharks believe they're turning things around after win over Oilers

SAN JOSE -- Suffice to say, the Sharks don't look like the same team that started a six-game homestand on Nov. 1 with one of the worst records in the NHL.

With a 6-3 win over the Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, the Sharks have won four in a row and appear to be climbing out of the hole they dug themselves in the first month of the season.

Not to jump the gun or anything, The Sharks aren't out of the woods yet. But after the past six games, it looks like they're finally turning the corner and playing the way they expect to.

"Every game, I feel like we're more comfortable," said Tomas Hertl, who scored a goal Tuesday. "Everybody plays better. So now we have to just keep going."

The Sharks spent a good chunk of the first month of the season looking out of sync -- offensively, defensively, you name it. The culprit? Focusing too much on individual play and not working together as a unit.

"We weren't playing our system," Marc-Edouard Vlasic summarized Tuesday. "We were freelancing. We were doing our own thing. And it's funny when you stick to it, to what you do best, the results follow."

Erik Karlsson, Vlasic's defensive partner, agreed.

"We lost ourselves a little bit," said Karlsson, who had three assists Tuesday. "But right now we're working hard for each other and getting ourselves in good spots out there."

Sticking to that system yielded positive production on Tuesday against the Oilers. The Sharks scored six goals, and largely contained Oilers superstars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. 

"We had a big task in stopping one of the best lines in hockey and I think we did a good job of that," Karlsson said. "I think everyone contributed offensively and defensively. I think we played the right way for 60 minutes even though they scored three goals. But I think we stuck with it."

"They're at the top of the division and I thought we did a good job of defending McDavid and Draisaitl as a group tonight," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer added. "I thought we had some individuals who did a really good job, but I thought everyone on the ice with those guys was aware."

Of course, getting the jump on the Oilers fewer than five minutes into the game didn't hurt, either. 

"We got the first goal, which took a little bit of the pressure off," DeBoer said. "We got to play out in front most of the night. Those kinds of things make a difference."

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Now, as Hertl mentioned, the Sharks have to keep going. With an 8-10-1 record, San Jose is still under .500.

That's not good enough for a team accustomed to playing in the postseason. 

"If you're under (.500) you're not in the playoffs," Hertl said. "We're trying the best and over the last four games, we actually look like the Sharks."

If they keep looking like the Sharks that Hertl is talking about, the outlook on the season gets a little brighter.

How Sharks' Radim Simek made his presence felt in win vs. Blackhawks

How Sharks' Radim Simek made his presence felt in win vs. Blackhawks

When Radim Simek was sidelined last March with a torn ACL and MCL, the Sharks insisted that they would be able to maintain their status as a dominant team in the defenseman's absence.

But in his return to game action Tuesday night, nearly eight months later, it immediately became clear what a considerable impact the young blueliner has when he's in San Jose's lineup.

"He makes a big difference," head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters after Team Teal's 4-2 win over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. "When he was in our lineup last year we were a different team."

The Sharks' defense played a big role in Tuesday's win, keeping Chicago out of their zone and limiting their chances. San Jose played heavier and harder in Simek's return, as he tallied four blocks and tied for the team lead with five hits. His first-period hit on rookie center Kirby Dach not only epitomized the grit that San Jose's blue line has been missing, but showed that his physical play is already where it needs to be.

Simek clocked 20:37 minutes of ice time in his first game back, just 20 fewer seconds than Erik Karlsson. Karlsson and Brent Burns have been logging heavy minutes since the start of the season due to multiple injuries and replacements proving unable to pick up the slack. With a healthy Simek back in the mix, the two Norris Trophy winners now can play more manageable minutes.

"It allows us the luxury of not having to overplay guys," DeBoer said. "Their minutes are more where they need to be, which allows us to hop over the board with energy and defend harder. So it was nice to have [Simek] back."

That improved energy on the blue line was evident throughout the game, as the Sharks' retooled defensive pairs controlled a good portion of the contest. Simek looked right at home reunited with Burns, while Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic recreated some of the chemistry they established playing together last season. Even the Sharks' new all-lefty combo of Brenden Dillon and Mario Ferraro had a good night and set up a short-handed goal in the process.

Now, of course, the Sharks need to harness that energy and play with that same kind of heaviness on a nightly basis.

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While Tuesday's win helped snap a five-game losing streak, San Jose's journey isn't going to get any easier. The Sharks' homestand continues this week against a Minnesota Wild team coming off a win over the Ducks, and against a Nashville Predators squad that is sure to test San Jose's physicality. If the Sharks want to turn one win into the start of a streak, their defense is going to have to keep rolling.

With Radim Simek back in the mix, they have a better chance of doing that.

What Radim Simek beginning conditioning stint in AHL means for Sharks

What Radim Simek beginning conditioning stint in AHL means for Sharks

Sharks fans no doubt are waiting with bated breath as Radim Simek gets his AHL conditioning stint underway en route to playing for a healthy game for San Jose.

Now, the Czech defenseman probably isn't hopping back on NHL ice after just one game with the Barracuda. But at the very least, Simek appears to be on the right track -- and for a Sharks team in need of a boost after a rocky start to their season, that is a very good thing. 

Simek registered a plus-one in the Barracuda's 5-0 rout of the Bakersfield Condors on Wednesday, and set up a third-period goal by Lean Bergmann in his first contest since getting injured last March. For a skater who hasn't played in a game for almost a year, the ability to shake off the rust and get on the scoresheet in a positive way obviously is a good sign.

"To be honest, he really didn't look like he missed a beat," Barracuda coach Roy Sommer told the media after Wednesday's game. "I don't think we're going to have him for long."

Of course, as encouraging as that endorsement is, how Simek's surgically-repaired knee responds to playing again is going to be a big factor. Simek said his knee still had to be checked out following the game but noted it felt good for the duration.

"I felt great tonight," Simek said to the media. "I wasn't nervous, but it was eight months without hockey. Maybe I was nervous a little bit. The first period was hard for me. But the second and third period was better."

Not only was Simek's physical play up to snuff, but his hockey smarts seem to be as sharp as ever.

"You can tell he's above all of our other guys in moving pucks and making decisions," Sommer said. "He makes his partner look good."

The next step for the 27-year-old blueliner is having that positive impact on his defensive partner on the NHL stage.

The 2019 Sharks' "Rookie of the Year" honoree made a huge impact when he was recalled from the Barracuda last season, cementing himself in the Sharks defense by being the perfect anchor for Brent Burns. San Jose then went 29-9-3 with Simek in the lineup until losing him to the ACL/MCL injury.

Needless to say, that's the kind of record the Sharks could use right now, as they sit just one point ahead of the cellar-dwelling LA Kings in the Pacific Division. They also are giving up the second-most goals in the league -- LA is giving up the most -- through the first 13 games of the season. Clearly, any shakeup to their defense will be a big boost.

How the Sharks' blue line will look after Simek returns is a bit of a mystery.

It would make sense to pencil him back in on Burns' left side since the two played together so successfully last season. Assuming the Brenden Dillon-Erik Karlsson pair doesn't get broken up, that would potentially put lefty Marc-Edouard Vlasic with Tim Heed and make rookie Mario Ferraro the odd man out -- except that Ferraro has successfully taken on a big workload in his first stint in the NHL and Heed has been glued to San Jose's bench for the better part the last few games. 

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Long story short: How San Jose's defense will look when Simek returns will have to remain a mystery for now.

At the very least, though, he's closer to making a comeback.